Juliette Kinzie’s Wau-Bun – The Early Day in the Northwest

I have just finished reading a book which has captivated me for many successive evenings.  Now that I have closed the final chapter, I feel like I’ve said goodbye to a most interesting friend!

The book is one I picked up in the Chicago area this summer (quite appropriately, as the book is very much about the early settlement of Chicago and the regions surrounding it.)  Wau-Bun, The Early Day in the Northwest, by Mrs. John H. Kinzie, is an historical autobiography that was first published by Derby and Jackson, New York, 1856.  It has been republished multiple times since, by  J. B. Lippincott  (1873),  Rand McNally (1901),The Caxton Club  (1901), George Banta (1930), Lakeside Press (1932),  National Society of Colonial Dames in Wisconsin (1948), and others.

Here’s a link to a photo and description of the first edition (Derby and Jackson, NY, 1856) on University of Wisconsin’s Digital Collections, (PBO – Publisher’s Bindings Online ).

The Rand McNally edition (1901) is an attractive decorated American trade binding, done in green cloth boards with a  brown and black illustrated background of high-rise Chicago buildings, with tee-pees and a canoe on a river in the foreground on the cover, and a small decoration on the spine.

 Here’s our 1930 Edition (George Banta Publishing Company, Menasha, WI), in its original dustjacket:

Wau-Bun - The Early Day In the Northwest, by Juliette M. Kinzie (Menasha, WI: 1930, George Banta Publishing Co.

Wau-Bun – The Early Day In the Northwest, by Juliette M. Kinzie (Menasha, WI: 1930, George Banta Publishing Co.)

 The endearing thing about this copy is its provenance;

Inscription inside our copy of Wau-Bun

Inscription inside our copy of Wau-Bun

This copy actually belonged to the Indian Agency House in  Portage, Wisconsin, about which the author wrote in the book and where she lived.   The Indian Agency House was built by the U.S. government for John Kinzie in 1832.  Kinzie was the Indian Agent to the Ho-Chunk Nation (Winnebago), and he and his wife, Juliette Magill Kinzie, lived at the portage from 1832-1834.

          Image of the map printed on the front fixed endaper:

Map of the areas of Wisconsin and upper Illinois covered in Wau-Bun

Map of the areas of Wisconsin and upper Illinois covered in Wau-Bun

This edition was published in 1930 to support the effort to preserve the Agency House:

From the front panel of the dust jacket of "Wau-Bun" (George Banta Publishing Co., 1930)

From the front of the dust jacket of “Wau-Bun” (George Banta Publishing Co., 1930)

Apparently it was a successful effort, as it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and still stands today with guided tours available during summer months for a nominal fee.

 This edition also has an Introduction and is edited with notes by Louise Phelps Kellogg, which contain some corrections and additional information.

 Juliette Magill was a well-educated young woman from Connecticut when she met the dashing young John Kinsey in Boston, Massachusetts, whom she fell in love with and married in 1830.   She moved with him to Detroit and then Fort Winnebago, a new trading post at the crucial portage between the Fox and Wisconsin rivers.  At the time, it was the western-most outpost of the American frontier forts, where her husband was an Indian sub-agent to the Ho-Chunk nation (Winnebago).

John H. Kinzie, a portrait from "Wau-Bun"

John H. Kinzie, a portrait from “Wau-Bun”

 Juliette M. Kinzie wrote with clarity, compassion, and intelligence.  Her narrative about the times in which they lived is beautifully written, with fascinating details on what it was like to travel, communicate and subsist on the early Western frontier.   Her experiences with the Black Hawk War and the Sauk War are recounted, and details of the Chicago Massacre (Battle at Fort Dearborn) are covered as they were related to her by members of her husband’s family who lived in Chicago at the time it occurred.  Wau-Bun was not her first published work.  In 1844 Juliette Kinzie published Narrative of the Massacre at Chicago, August 15, 1812, and of Some Preceding Events, anonymously.  Kinzie acknowledged authorship soon after publication.

Juliette M. Kinzie, a portrait from "Wau-Bun"

Juliette M. Kinzie, a portrait from “Wau-Bun”

 She was a game young woman who enjoyed being on the frontier, sometimes covering over 60 miles a day on horseback as they journeyed between posts, sleeping outdoors or in makeshift shelters or as welcome guests at isolated homesteads.  They routinely dealt with blizzards, mud, storms, mosquitoes and summer heat, and the diverse cultures and idiosyncrasies of an assortment of Native American tribes.  She possessed a positive attitude and a subtle sense of humor, along with insight and compassion into the culture of the Native American people and their plight as white settlers encroached on their homeland.  Her writing style is honest and as readable as if it were written yesterday.

 For anyone interested in the history of the Great Lakes area, early American travel, fur trading, American Indian wars, and frontier forts (including Ft. Mackinac, Ft. Winnebago, and Ft. Dearborn),  this book is not to be missed.

An image of  Chicago in 1831 from "Wau-Bun"

An image of Chicago in 1831 from “Wau-Bun”

 In addition to her non-fiction work, Kinzie published one novel Walter Ogilby (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1869), and it must be exceedingly scarce, as I have not been able to locate a single copy for sale.

A few interesting footnotes: 

According to Wikipedia, Juliette M. Kinzie died at age 64 while vacationing in Amagansett, New York, Long Island, in 1870, after a druggist accidentally substituted morphine for quinine.  (How ironic, after a life of constant danger and close calls in Indian wars and hazardous frontier travel that she should be snuffed out by a pharmacist’s error in Eastern “civilization.”)

 Juliette Kinzie’s granddaughter was Juliette Gordon Low, who founded Girl Scouting in America in 1912.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As a direct decedent of John Magill (McGill) father of Charles (gggg Grandfather) and Arthur Magill-uncle and father respectively I thank you for Blogging this.
    Dr. Wm. Scott Magill
    Hollideck@aol.com

    • Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I enjoyed reading about Juliette Kinzie’s life so much!

      Cathy

  2. As a direct descendant of Juliette Kinzie I love reading about her. I envy you for having a signed copy of her book. I have wished for so long to have one. Please treasure it. She was a remarkable woman. I’m proud to say I have her and Johns blood in my veins. Thank you for blogging about her . 😉

    • Brenda,
      Thank you for your note! I enjoyed this book so very much — to me, it ranks up there with “Out of Africa.” Juliette was a fine writer, and her book deserves a wide audience. It is such a pleasure to get a reply from her descendant!
      In case you are interested, this book is offered for sale on our book store website at http://www.oldscrolls.com or you can contact us at info@oldscrolls.com I have since obtained another copy, so can bring myself to part with this one.
      Kind Regards,
      Cathy Petruccione
      Old Scrolls Book Shop


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